26 Sep


John Locke was English philosopher and politician. He was born in Somerset, England in1632. His father had enlisted in the parliamentary army during the civil war.

1. Locke had anti- royalist upbringing. When Locke was only ten years old the civil war broke out in England. His father took the side of parliament to fight against the king

2. He was empirical - Like Hobbes Locke had also the opportunity to witness the civil war and its consequences. He viewed everything with an outlook of reality. He took the side of people who were anti-royalist. In the public life he was an opponent of Cromwell and critical of his despotic functioning. He was accused of conspiracy against King Charles II and sought asylum in Holland; where he came into contact with William of Orange who became the king of England after the Bloodless Revolution of 1688.

3. Experience - Locke returned to England and occupied several important public positions. He retired from public life and died in 1704. In this period he worked as diplomat, civil servant. He had practical experience about almost all aspects of social and political life. This enabled him to see everything in real perspective.

All these are the reasons which are responsible for Locke's political philosophy.

 Locke's Social Contract Theory :

 Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau have explained the origin of the state in terms of contract. Format of the theory followed by them is identical; comprising human nature, state of nature, the social contract and the establishment of the state. 

Hobbes used the theory to advocate absolutism while Locke's objective Was to justify limited and constitutional government and Rousseau's doctrine was meant to condemn despotism and provoke people to revolution. Locke's social contract theory comprises following points:

  1. Locke's Perception of Human Nature
  2. Locke's perception about the state of Nature.
  3. Locke's views on the nature of the contract.
  4. Locke's views on state and government.
  5. Locke's advocacy of constitutional government.

Locke's political theory rests on his perception of human nature :

  1. Locke's political theory rests on his perception of human nature.
  2. Locke does not accept Hobbeian view that man is quarrelsome and aggressive. Locke believes in goodness of human nature. To him people are fundamentally decent orderly and loving as well as capable of ruling themselves. Locke's political philosophy was immensely influenced by the times in which he lived and was involved. During the years of distress and while in political exile, he witnessed the vicious aspects of human nature. But at the same time, he had experienced the goodness of human nature. Therefore, his perception of human nature was not a cynical as that of Hobbes.
  3. Desire is the spring of all human acts and that a feeling of pleasure ensues, when desire is satisfied. He maintains that the object of all human action is the acquisition of pleasure and avoidance of pain. From this type of human nature state exist. According to Locke, state exists as the means for attaining the peace, security and being of its individual members. He emphasized that government is a trustee works on behalf of the people. He said historical evidence went to show the government authority was derived from the people and rested on their consent.
  4. Locke said people are sufficiently rational to see that their best interests lies in  mutual and peaceful cooperation.
  5. According to Locke, "All men are naturally in a state of equality and all people are born free."

Locke's perception about state of Nature

Pre-state stage- According to Locke, state of Nature was pre - political but not Pre-social stage. There were no political authority.

Under natural law - It was not lawless stage. People and their behaviour were under the control of natural law. The state of nature was governed by the law of nature which was based on reason or consciousness.

Not a state of war but of peace and goodwill - According to Locke, the state of nature is the state of goodwill, mutual assistance and preservation of peace. People did not indulge in war.

Equality in personal liberty - In the state of nature people were free and equal. There was equality not in intellect, physical might or possessions but equality in personal liberty. Freedom of life, liberty and property was everybody's inherent and inalienable birth right. 

Like civil society - Locke's state of nature was very much like civil society without a government. 

The state of nature had some serious inconveniences

(a) In the absence of an established, settled and known law, every man was the interpreter of law.

(b) In the absence of executive power to enforce law, every - man had the right to execute the law of nature.

(c) In the absence of Judiciary, each one interpreted the law as per his convenience.

(d) Variety in the interpretation of law created disorder and confusion. There was no peace, stability and security of life, liberty and property.

People realised that these inconveniences of state of Nature can be removed by establishing a civil government by all.

Locke's Views on the Nature of the Contract :

To end the above - mentioned inconveniences of the state of nature, each individual contracted with others to unite and constitute a community.

Purpose of the contract :

Main purpose of the contract, the protection and preservation of natural rights, i.e. life,liberty and property. Thus, under contract state was formed with some expectations. The features of Locke's social contract are as follows:

1. Two contracts :

According to Locke, by the first contract civil society, i.e. the state was constituted and by the second contract the government was established. 

This contract was made by each with all. A single body politic under one government was formed.

2. Contract was specific not general :

According to Locke, in the contract each individual to give up not all natural rights but one of interpreting and executing the laws of nature. Thus, contract was specific.

3. No absolute sovereign :

In this contract people surrendered their rights not to any person or group but to the community as a whole. Hence, community became superior. Government is entrusted with certain powers to protect the rights of the people.

4. Sovereignty of the community (people) :

The sovereign power created by the contract vests not in a single man but in the community as a whole

5. Natural rights :

After the establishment of the state every man will retain natural rights. The state will have an obligation to uphold these rights.

6. Unanimous contract :

Contract was unanimously made by the people with their own consent. Hence, government would be based firmly upon the consent of the masses.

7. Irrevocable contract :

The contract is irrevocable because after having once made it, the people cannot revert back to the freedom of the state of nature.


The structure of the state and its relationship with the subject explained by Locke are as follows:

1. Distinction between the state and government :

Locke distinguishes between the state and government. According to him, state comes into existence as a result of the second contract. The rulers and the ruled together constitute the state. Whereas those entrusted the responsibility "to rule" constitute the government. Thus, state is superior than the government.

2. Right to revolt against the government :

Locke said people have no right to revolt against the state. But people can revolt against the government and can change the government for specific purposes. The natural rights of people are inviolable  and must be protected by the government. If the government fails to protect these rights it deserves to be changed. 

The British people, when they changed their government in 1688, were justified. Locke repeatedly asserts "the end" of the government is the good of the community and that all states must be founded on consent. He said the Kings were not attempting the good of the community and their rule was not based on the consent of the people. Therefore, they were justly dismissed from power in 1688.

3. Emphasis on popular sovereignty :

Locke did not build up a legal sovereignty. He put emphasis on popular sovereignty, i.e. after the contract community will be sovereign. Government will work for specific purpose. If government failed in doing their work then people had the right of revolution against such a government.

4. Limited government :

Locke opposed the idea of absolute sovereignty. He advocated government based on division of powers and subjected to number of limitations. These limitations are as follows:

a) It could not violate the natural rights of the people. Government will work for public interest.

(b) It must govern according to the laws.

(c) It could not govern arbitrarily.

(d) It could not tax the individuals without their consent. Source of power is the people.

(e) The laws of the government should conform with the laws of nature.

A government which violated its limitations was not worthy of obedience. Thus, Locke advocated limited government.

5. Majority rule :

Locke's contract implied the rule of majority. The law of nature could not be enforced by the state, unless the minority submitted to the will of majority. The majority had the right to act for the whole community.

6. Constitutional state :

Locke depicted a constitutional state where the relationship between people and government and among people themselves will be determined by the rule of law not by arbitrariness. 

Locke's advocacy of limited and constitutional government :

John Locke recognizes the distinction between state and government. According to him, by first contract a civil society was formed, puts an end of the state of nature, second contract created the government.

Functions of government

The main object of people's uniting into (state) commonwealth and putting themselves under the government was the preservation of their natural rights.

Limitations on powers of government :

Locke opposed to the idea of absolute sovereignty. According to him, limitations on the power of government are as follows:

  1. Government will work for public interest. It by means their power is limited to the public good in the society.
  2. It must govern according to the laws.
  3. The laws of the government should conform with the laws of nature.
  4. It could not govern arbitrarily.
  5. Thus, Locke advocated constitutional government.

Separation of powers and sovereignty :

Before Montesquieu, Locke originated the theory of separation of power and checks and balance. He said legislature will control the executive. Legislature is constituted by the representatives of people and hence popular will is expressed through the legislature. The legislative power is limited to the public good of the society. When a government does something contrary to public good or violates the law of nature, it is to be overthrown by popular revolt.

Sovereignty is vested in the community. Locke repudiated the sovereignty of Hobbes.


Locke's social contract theory is unrealistic a social contract such as Locke describes almost never has happened.

Locke's social contract theory assumes that we are (or generates us as) separate,independent individuals, whereas we are members of families who have friends, i.e., we have social ties when we go to create the social contract, as well as Our independence and our rights to life, liberty, and property.

Locke's social contract theory is backwards-looking: it aims to "preserve the rights we had in the state of nature, it does not aim to allow new governments to improve social conditions if they contradict those backwards-looking' rights. (Think here, for rights can be used to oppose social welfare measures, or how a Second Amendment [the gun amendment), suitable for an age of militias, now just wrecks havoc in the US).

Locke's social contract theory is elitist, or biased towards those who have, work for, or inherit property, because while everyone has a right to property the great benefits of property-ownership fall to those who have property. (For this criticism made obliquely, see Federalist No. 10 [1 think maybe 51], which says that the chief and enduring source of faction is the division between those who own, and those who do not own, property.

Locke's social contract theory is more hard-hearted than Hobbes's: with Hobbes, at least if you are starving, you have a right of distress, i.e. you have a justification for stealing food; but with Locke, the right to property is as absolute as the right to life, and so you cannot steal someone's property to allow you to exercise or continue your right to life.

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